Photo: Motel One hotel in Germany

Sink into egg chairs at Motel One.

Photograph courtesy Motel One

By Juliana Gilling

From the May/June 2011 issue of National Geographic Traveler

As cities wake from the winter and beaches remain blissfully quiet, spring is a good time to experience the real Europe—especially at one of Europe’s affordable hotel chains. These budget hotels focus on the essentials: stylish rooms, family-friendly packages, and great destinations at the doorstep.

Tucked away in a warren of streets beneath Spain’s Alhambra—Andalusia’s ancient citadel—is the Hesperia Granada (from $82), a historic town house transformed into an elegant hotel. Hesperia is part of NH Hotels, which has more than 400 properties in such cities as Paris, Lisbon, Barcelona, and Bruges. The Hesperia Granada’s kaleidoscopic glass dome topping its inner courtyard shows Moorish influence. Spacious guest rooms have hardwood floors, marble bathrooms, and complimentary Internet.

By the end of 2011, Motel One, known for its fresh minimalist style, will have 39 hotels in Germany and two in Austria (from $67). Hotel interiors combine stone walls with designer pieces such as Arne Jacobsen’s curvaceous egg chairs. Compact guest rooms feature high-end fixtures including flat-screen TVs, iPod docks, and monsoon showers. One child under age 12 stays free. Every hotel has a One Lounge, which stays open 24/7 as a cafeteria and bar. Motel One’s 409-room Berlin-Tiergarten hotel is a ten-minute walk to the 630-acre Tiergarten, Berlin’s answer to Central Park.

Wales’s capital city, Cardiff, was the first site for the Big Sleep Hotel (from $72), the trendy brand backed by John Malkovich. The converted 1960s office building features Formica furniture and candy-colored walls behind its green glass facade. Guests enjoy complimentary breakfasts before they set off to tour Cardiff Castle or roar with the rugby crowds at the Millennium Stadium. Other Big Sleep hotels have opened in the English towns of Cheltenham and Eastbourne.

Premier Inn’s cheerful purple logo is a familiar sight for budget-conscious travelers in the U.K. and Ireland with over 580 hotels (from $47). Every hotel provides spacious, family-size rooms that can accommodate up to four people. Premier Inn’s new Belfast Titanic Quarter hotel, in the area where the famed ship was built, offers 121 modern rooms and views over the waterfront and city.

French chain Campanile (from $55) is revamping its 395 hotels across Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and the U.K. Changes include higher quality bedding and modern touches such as Wi-Fi and New Generation restaurants, developed with Michelin star chef Pierre Gagnaire to showcase Gallic cuisine.

Barceló’s Old Town Praha hotel in Prague (from $147) is part of a chain that has 181 properties ranging from affordable city center hotels to beach resorts. This boutique hotel, with 62 loft-style rooms, is in a former palace, next to the 15th-century Powder Tower in the city’s Old Town.

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